Palmetto teacher disputes firing

ataylor@bradenton.comOctober 26, 2011 

MANATEE -- Lincoln Middle School teacher Stephanie Holtey was terminated this week under a new state law that allows teachers on a probationary contract to be fired for any reason, district officials said Tuesday.

The law, which is loosely known as Senate Bill 736, also eliminated tenure for some teachers and introduced performance pay. Holtey worked on an annual contract at the Palmetto school under a probationary period.

“An employee on a probationary contract may resign or be dismissed without creating a breach of contract,” according to the law, which took effect in July.

Holtey, however, believes she was fired because of a seizure she had at Lincoln Middle School. She pleaded with school board members Monday night to keep her job. She had been placed on paid administrative leave on Oct. 14 -- the day she had the seizure.

The seizure occurred at the middle school during a teacher planning day, Holtey said.

“I had a seizure that lasted 30 minutes,” Holtey, 38, told board members. “Most people only experience one seizure in a lifetime and the cause is usually unknown. My episode included hallucinations, profanity, unconsciousness, screaming, vomiting, shaking and incontinence. All of these are normal characteristics of a seizure.”

Holtey’s plea during the public comments, along with those of her supporters, were in vain. Her name was pooled with other items under the consent agenda and her termination was unanimously approved.

The district relied upon the new law, Associate Superintendent Scott Martin said. “That’s the nature of being employed under the probationary term.”

It was unclear why Holtey had a probationary contract. Martin said it was his first time reviewing the case.

Holtey, who has been a teacher for about 14 years, has worked on and off in the Manatee County School District and overseas. On the morning of her seizure, she said she had agreed to be chairwoman of Lincoln Middle School’s language arts department.

“I feel that we are here today because my principal, Mr. Curtis Davis, was one of four employees that witnessed a very traumatic event ... causing him to make an error by recommending my dismissal as eighth-grade teacher of math and language arts. I feel that he is making this decision based on medical reasons instead of professional performance.”

Calls seeking comment from the principal were referred to Martin.

Martin disagrees with Holtey’s assumption, noting, “I’m quite certain that was not the cause.”

Holtey was given a CAT scan, EEG and MRI the week after the seizure. She said that blood and urine tests were normal, and she tried returning to work a week later.

She said she was given the option to be recommended for dismissal by Davis or that she could resign due to medical reasons. Holtey said she asked if her termination was due to the seizure and was told by Davis that was not the case.

Instead, the cause for termination was that she was “not a proper fit for Lincoln Middle School.”

She told board members, “Taking away my paycheck and health insurance during this traumatic time would be unethical and have horrific effects on my family’s welfare. I am the sole financial supporter for my entire family, all six of us.”

Holtey said she supports her grandmother, mother and three children.

A teacher who spoke on Holtey’s behalf Monday night asked for the school board to investigate her dismissal. A parent and student of Lincoln Middle School also spoke.

Student Daisy Ramirez said, “She’s a really good teacher.”

Daisy’s mother added, “I’ve never had her be so happy in that school.”

Holtey said Daisy’s grades improved dramatically in her class from failing to a B.

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